IN ALIEN LAND, INDIAN MUSIC IS AT HOME

KALYANI CHANDORKAR
INDIAN EXPRESS (Pune Edition) – JANUARY 8, 2001

THOUGH living abroad, they are more tuned to the classical music and popular film music. They are a couple whose English is an unmistakable American drawl, but who break into more or less chaste Hindi with a sprinkling of Urdu phrases thrown in. Well, that’s Sanjeev and Armeen Ramabhadran for you.

And when they interacted with Pune-based musician Dr. Alaka Deo Marulkar during her shows abroad, she was impressed with their “sincerity and depth of knowledge, even though neither of them have music as a profession.” So, she’s invited the duo to regale Pune audiences at the Kale Sabagruha near the Gokhale Institute on Monday evening on numbers ranging from “Anil Biswas to A.R. Rehman.”

“I guess I picked up Indian music at just about the right time,” smiles Sanjeev languorously, as he reclines on the sofa after the morning’s arduous rehearsal. Meaning he was a little over two years old, since he started listening more closely to his parents’ collection.

Living in St. Louis, the little boy learned by listening to cassettes of Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar and other stalwarts. “At that point of time, he didn’t even understand the lyrics,” pipes in Armeen. He would receive periodic coaching from the renowned Ram Phatak, the AIR producer who’d be visiting his son for a month or two every year. “I’d sing Hindi music to the accompaniment of the violin,” he reminisces. So ardent was his desire to delve deeper into Indian music that he’d attend bhajan mandalis (yes, they have those in the States too.) “That’s how I picked up the harmonium.”

The twenty-something software engineer has given both classical and film music shows all over the States. Pray, what is the level of understanding and awareness of Indian music there?

“The younger generation’s concept of Indian music is Indi-pop and remixes,” grins Armeen. “Basically anything they can dance to, damn the musical value.”

The older generation, however, is much more aware. “Thanks to the internet and unlike-never before influx of Hindi films abroad, Indian music is catching on,” Sanjeev reveals. “But one has to take the trouble to point out to audiences the songs they love so well, borrow heavily from various forms of Indian classical music – be it Hindustani or Carnatic,” says Armeen.

Hailing from a music-loving family in Baroda, she met her beloved when he was visiting his cousin and her close friend in Baroda. “Sanjeev was in India for the Sa Re Ga Ma finals,” she says. “I sang for him, and sometime later we happened to meet again in the States. Within two weeks of meeting again, we performed together.

“Slowly, we began to understand that we had more in common besides music and dooriyaan nazdeekiyaan ban gayeen,” laughs Sanjeev.

About the Sa Re Ga Ma experience, Sanjeev says, “I directly wrote to Sonu Nigam, without even knowing that he was only the host. I received a lot of exposure…people even recognized me on London airport. I had no idea as to the awesome reach of the programme.”

Sanjeev’s sensitivity is so high that he actually associates different colours with individuals “surs”. Even if the “sur” climbs half a scale up or down, the colour he visualizes undergoes a change. A rarer than rare gift, a sort of kinetic mix of various aesthetic senses.

Both Sanjeev and Armeen prefer to compere their own shows. “We explain to the listeners as to what the particular number is all about, its background, and so on. We like to put our music in perspective.”

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